Exweb interview with Shimshal daughter Samina Baig: "I was born and grew up working at altitude"

Posted: Sep 24, 2010 01:44 pm EDT

Eighteen-year old Samina Khayal Baig recently pioneered a first ascent of Chashkin Sar (6,400m) in Shimshal, a remote valley in Pakistans Hunza region. A trailblazer for Pakistani female climbers, Samina talks with ExWebs Amanda Padoan about how she got started and why K2 is her ultimate goal.

ExWeb: Of all the unclimbed peaks in the region, why did you choose Chashkin Sar?

Samina: Chashkin Sar has been my favorite peak since childhood. My mother and I could see it clearly when wed take our animals to graze at Shimshal Pass. I thought the mountain was very beautiful. Its a dome of mixed rock and ice. No one had climbed it yet, so this summer my brother suggested we try. That peak really made me assess my own strength. From the summit I could see hundreds of new mountains that I never knew existed.

ExWeb: How did you start mountaineering?

Samina: I was born at altitude. My village, Shimshal, is at 3,300 meters and was very isolated when I was growing up. A jeep road was built connecting us to the rest of the world in 2003, but for almost 400 years it was only our village and the mountains. I grew up working at altitude, gathering dry juniper and grazing yaks on the pamirs at 4,700 meters. We have extreme winters, -20°C sometimes. Id break the ice at the river, wash my familys clothes and fill water jugs to take home. These chores are good practice for mountaineering. I have always felt inspired by my environment and the purity and roughness of the mountains.

ExWeb: Shimshal is surrounded by nine peaks, each taller than the highest peak of North America. That must be inspiring...

Samina: Yes. For as long as I can remember I saw these huge mountains around me and wanted to climb them. Hardly anyone was climbing these giants and no women. We have Dastagir Sar at 7,885 meters (the main summit), Kunyang Chish at 7,852 meters, Dastaghir II at 7,760 meters, Kanjust Sar at 7,760 meters, Telvar Sar at 7,720 meters, Yukshin Gardan at 7,647 meters and many more 7000ers and 6000ers that are unclimbed and unnamed. I wanted to climb and, fortunately, my brother Mirza Ali is a mountaineer. He was training men, and he decided to train me too.

ExWeb: Are there unique challenges for a Muslim woman as a mountaineer?

Samina: My community is Ishmaili so gender equality is valued, and historically Shimshali women were climbing and herding at altitudes almost as much as the men. But it can be very difficult for a Muslim woman to climb with a team of men and maintain modesty. I shared a tent with my brother.

ExWeb: Tell me about the mountaineering heritage of Shimshal.

Samina: Shimshali mountaineering is sort of inherited. Our ancestors built Shimshal beneath a glacier, and our community survived this harsh environment using mountaineering skills. Our grandparents and great-grandparents climbed with homemade ropes, wooden stakes and animal horns. Modern mountaineering only reached Shimshal in the 1980s, but Shimshali men soon made their mark. Four of the seven Pakistanis who have summited K2 are from my village.

ExWeb: Your village has also lost men to K2.

Samina: Yes, mountaineering is a harsh life. Beautiful but harsh. I lost two cousins, Jehan Baig and Karim Meherban, on K2 in 2008. Their deaths were the most shocking news wed ever had in Shimshal. Nobody wanted to believe it because no Shimshali had ever died on an 8,000-meter peak. We didnt see the mountains as a place you go to get killed. I saw the mountains as a place of peace and beauty.

ExWeb: Would you ever climb K2 yourself?

Samina: In fact, K2 is my ultimate goal.

ExWeb: #$%@!

Samina: And Everest.

ExWeb: What motivates you to climb?

Samina: My faith motivates everything I do. I am inspired by these heavenly mountains, the oneness of Allah and His power to create both the mountains and us.

Editor's Note - corrected Sep25: Samina was not trained in any mountaineering school
as we previously mentioned. She attented to a 3 days-long training before the climb though.

Chashkin Sar expedition debrief -- by Mirza Ali

Expedition leader and Samina's brother Mirza Ali has submitted a complete expedition debrief, which he has headlined as A Quest Beyond Limits.

A joint venture of Pakistan Youth Outreach (a youth mountaineering education and awareness and adventure promotion program for women) and Satwa Guna project Illusions of Form (ran by Romanian Stelian Pavalche) organized a joint expedition to unclimbed peak Chashkin Sar at 6,400 meters in the Karakorum, Shimshal Maidur Valley, from August 19 to September 8, 2010 .

The expedition's main theme was to make a documentary about first Pakistani woman climbing an unclimbed peak, being Muslim, Pakistani and first woman mountaineer to reach the height of 6,400 meters for the first time in Pakistan history. Aim was to educate, encourage and promote woman adventures in the Karakorum, Pakistan and to let the world know that Pakistani women are equally involved in mountain adventure, in the midst of social, cultural and religious hurdles.

The expedition is comprised of three main members, Pakistani Mirza Ali (leader), Romanian Stelian Pavalche (film maker and photographer) and Pakistani Samina Baig (climber).

Climbing details

We reached Hunza on August 22 -- the roads were destroyed by heavy landslides and floods. Two days later we got to Shimshal and, after filming for two days, we went on together with our cook and 11 porters, and set up BC at approximately 5,200 meters. That same day we went on an acclimatization climb to high camp at 5,800 meters. We setup high camp on August 28, together with four porters and, on August 30, we went on with our summit push, leaving high camp at 3:35AM.

We climbed the peak via the northeast ridge. Late in the season, as we were, conditions were either dry or icy up to 6,200 meters. We didnt' use fixed ropes and made two teams of three to four members each. Mirza Ali led the summit group who topped out at 8:03AM, local time.

The peak has two main points which are approximately 35 to 40 degrees and two crevasses. The summit has a big serac on the east side. The top of Chashkin Sar (Samina Peak) is very flat and big.

Summiteers were:

1. Mirza Ali (group leader)
2. Stelian Pavalche, (film maker and photographer)
3. Samina Baig (climber)
4. Tafat Shah (porter and technical advisor)
5. Yahya Baig (porter and climber)
6. Salmat Khan (porter and climber)
7. Arshad Karim (flim maker and climber)

We could see all the mountains, from China's side to Pakistan's side. There were hundreds of mountains with several rising above 7 000 meters. Upon return to BC, our cook Wazir and assistant Imran Khan came and received us with big bunches of flowers.

Since this is a first climb, weve named the camps, route and peak as follows:

1. Base camp, named "Samina Camp"
2. High camp, named "Stelian Camp"
3. The route, named "Mirza Route"
4. The peak, renamed "Samina Peak"

Samina's thoughts from the top

Samina was very excited -- at the historical moment, she thanked Almighty Allah, bowing on the summit and crying of joy, as well as sharing it with the rest of the team. She performed amazingly, never needing any help from the others. It was the first time she used crampons, but had no problem with them. She didn't feel high altitude sickness or any kind of weakness; she climbed exactly the same as the male team members.

Samina Baig D/O Muhammad Khayal Baig is dweller of Shimshal, land of peerless mountaineers, a remote and frontier village of Pakistan. Samina Baig is a tenth grade high school student. She has six siblings, four brothers and one sister. She is the youngest child in the family. Her first two uncles, Yausaf Khan and Muhammad Ullah, climbed for the Pakistan Army for several years, and were awarded the Tamghai Basalt by the Government of Pakistan, for their great service to the nation in the field of mountaineering.

Samina climbed the mountain along with her brother Mirza Ali, who has climbed several 6000ers and 7000ers, and other members and porters. This was her first expedition. She uses Lowa trekking boots.

Samina hopes to raise awareness to Pakistan Youth Outreach project among international associations focued on empowering women. The organizations next projects include a training camp and a first Pakistani women winter expedition to another 6,400-meter unclimbed peak, which will serve as preparation for a 7,000-meter plus peak climb in 2011.
#Mountaineering #topstory #interview

Samina enjoying the summit moment.
courtesy Mirza Ali/Samina Baig, SOURCE
Samina enjoying the summit moment.
courtesy Mirza Ali/Samina Baig, SOURCE
Descending from the top.
courtesy Mirza Ali/Samina Baig, SOURCE
"Samina was very excited at the historical moment, she thanked Almighty Allah, bowing on the summit and crying of joy," brother Mirza Ali reported.
Image by Mirza Ali courtesy Mirza Ali/Samina Baig, SOURCE
Samina and Mirza on Chashkin Sar summit.
courtesy Mirza Ali/Samina Baig, SOURCE
""From the summit I could see hundreds of new mountains that I never knew existed," Samina recalled.
courtesy Mirza Ali/Samina Baig, SOURCE
Summit group posing.
courtesy Mirza Ali/Samina Baig, SOURCE
"Upon return to BC, our cook Wazir and assistant Imran Khan came and received us with big bunches of flowers," Mirza explained.
courtesy Mirza Ali/Samina Baig, SOURCE
Samina Baig is the first Pakistani female to attempt Everest (or any 8000er) while her brother Mirza Ali wants to reach the summit without using supplemental oxygen.
Image by Mirza Ali courtesy Mirza Ali/Samina Baig, SOURCE